Archive for the ‘documentary’ Category

Sunshine Superman

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, but we’ve had some ups and downs in these changing media times. In fact, many days it’s felt like the photo above from the documentary “Sunshine Superman.” One Big Leap of Faith.

A special shout out to this heart racing doc “Sunshine Superman,” directed by Marah Strauch that Magnolia Pictures/Universal is releasing theatrically on May 22. The awe-inspiring story is about Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement, whose early passion for skydiving and filmmaking led him to even more spectacular – and dangerous – feats of foot-launched human flight. I was the Line Producer for the Los Angeles portions of the film.
Nice mini review from Rolling Stone Magazine. In fact it’s been getting great reviews everywhere. See the trailer and follow the film on Facebook.

Another project I recently Line Produced/Produced was Nicholl Fellowship winner Alan Roth’s directorial debut “Jersey City Story” for Lexus. The dramatic short film is now available on the Lexus website, L Studio.

Our original comedy series “Love & Loathing: Adventures in Divorce Land” premiered February 14th through Mi Shorts distribution as part of Dailymotion The series questions if two middle-aged romantics can find true love flowering through the cracks of divorce? It’s pretty funny. Written and created by Tony Soltis (“The Shield”) and produced by myself, Tony and Mark Manos. I directed 3 of the episodes. The series stars Bonnie Burroughs and Christopher Hatfield. Love to hear your comments and thoughts. Watch it on the Love and Loathing Series site. Follow us on Facebook   Twitter @Divorceland

Inspired by these online showings and viral sharing, we’ve released some previous projects now for FREE online viewing. Many that I’ve written about on this site in the past. Check it out.

The Emmy Documentary on oil and the American men and women that make energy their business “Houston We Have A Problem” on Vimeo

My multi-award winning short narrative blues film, “Travelin’ Trains” Click on “Screening.” Also, the thought provoking short film I produced in 2005 starring Willie Garson and Misha Collins “The Crux”. Directed by Jeff Seckendorf​, Cinematography from Tom Houghton, ASC,​ Production Design from Edward L. Rubin.​ I think you’ll like both films.

The award winning 13 episode PBS series “Senior Year” on 12 young people in their last year of high school at Fairfax High School are now all available at a special Siteroll web site, SeniorYearShow . Also, from Displaced Films our documentary on race relations in the south “Displaced in the New South” continues to play on the wonderful preserve of documentaries on American roots, Folkstreams.

The documentary, “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” has been airing on PBS stations across the country since last May, 2014. The true stories of those hard working people in education; Teachers, advisers, students, etc. My favorite is the piece I directed on the janitor, Felix Lopez. Find us on Facebook for updates.

A television pilot “Kids2Kids” about children and their parents making a difference in their communities. Facebook

Enjoy and certainly spread the word! I promise to be back to the blog more often, but first you’ve got some watching to do!

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For the last couple of years I’ve been teaching a two-day film production course for the FAS Film Screen Training program in Ireland. This is an abbreviated version of the week long course I teach at the Maine Media Workshops. The students (all ages) are looking to take a career path to media. Some of them have remained friends.  One student, now studying film at St. John’s College in the beautiful city of Cork, Ireland, reached out, via email, with a series of questions on the role of the producer in the United States. I thought I would share her questions and my answers here in case others were interested. Thanks Yvonne.


  1. When did you decide that you wanted to be a producer?

Like many filmmakers when I started, I wanted to direct. I still do.  However, as I built up my resume and work experience, I started to understand the difference of a poorly produced production and a good one. I worked for years as an Assistant Director, which in this country is not a step toward directing, but more of the step toward producing. You get a real understanding of all facets of a production. How to accomplish the creative within the limitations of the budget. I started working with directors I respected and they asked me to produce their projects. I wanted to be part of the project. I don’t think I ever decided I wanted to be a producer, I just kept getting asked to produce.

  1. Can you tell me about your first producing job?

Well, when you’re an independent filmmaker, you have to do at least some producing, so even when I was 10 years old making Super 8 movies, I had to figure out how much of my paper route money was going to go to buying film, who of my friends I was going to cast, how was I going to create the set. In college to get a BFA in Film from Emerson College, I had to make a half hour movie. I had a producer, but I still needed to bring many of the elements together myself. I guess my first truly paid producing job was working for Ted Turner in Atlanta, Georgia. He had just started CNN, TBS and Turner Networks. I had a fair amount of experience as a rental manager and accountant for a company called Blake Films, so I got hired for some Turner jobs because I was willing to work cheap.

  1. Was the process of becoming a producer a difficult one after you finished your education?

Blake Films was my first job out of college and both my roommates had worked there. I started in the accounting office which for me was as far as you could get from making films, but on reflection, this is where I learned to create budgets, pay invoices, cost analyze. I was promoted to Rental Manager for a division of the company in Atlanta, Georgia. This gave me the knowledge of booking crews and equipment. However, at the time I still really wanted to direct, so I applied for grants and got the funding to make a short film, “Travelin’ Trains.” The film did very well at film festivals so I quit my job at Blake Films. I worked all different freelance jobs, but the only jobs I got as a director were unpaid.  I did get some production manager and producing jobs.  Most of the paying jobs were through connections and people I had worked with in the past. That’s so important in this business. It’s how I got my first job at Blake Films and how I continue to get work today.

  1. What advice would you have for someone looking to develop their producing skills?

Learn from other producers. Watch how they work. Being a production assistant or coordinator for a producer is the best opportunity to watch and learn. Hopefully, it’ll be a producer that is willing to share some of their knowledge. Then offer to help produce some of your director friends projects. Make mistakes. Get better. Develop a reputation as a good producer.  Don’t oversell your skills. Be honest.

  1. Do you find it hard when you’re directing, to be less hands on with producing duties?

Yes, I’ve been accused of this.  But in defense, when directing, I can make some cost saving decisions because of my producing and assistant directing background.  I’ve also been accused of being fairly hands on with the directing when I’m producing. The reason being is that many of the projects I’ve produced have required me to wear both hats. We really need to build a trust as a team before I can comfortably step away from taking on both roles. On the other hand, I’m not as interested in producing a project if I don’t have some creative stakes in the final result.

  1. How would you describe the film industry from a producer’s point of view?

Well, it certainly is getting harder to make money on a project and therefore investors are taking less risks. This flows down to everyone taking less risks on everything from ideas to hiring. It’s hard to find many new original independent films or television shows. That’s why I loved “Beasts of a Southern Wild” so much. (BTW, Fantastic article on the 10 lessons on Filmmaking from Director Benh Zeitlin in Filmmaker Magazine.)

What I find frustrating about the film industry in Los Angeles is that there is very little opportunity to move from one kind of job to another. I did this all the time in Atlanta – directed, produced, location manager, documentaries, feature films, directing theater. In Los Angeles, when searching for a job, I have to define my role as an absolute. Am I a documentary producer, reality television producer, indie film producer, televsion assistant director, indie film director, theater director? I’m all of the above and will do whatever it takes to get the job done to make the best project we can make.

As a producer, I want the best crew person that can do the job for the budget. If they have more experience then me, that’s even better.  Too many egos in this town. That’s why I think more and more people are going elsewhere to create their projects, that and tax incentives. I’m hoping to do all my future projects in Ireland.

  1. What qualities/skills/personal traits do you think a producer needs to survive in the film industry?

When I teach classes or meet a new student for my OneonOne Film Training, I always write down the traits they’ll need to “make it” in the film business. I believe that if you don’t have these qualities you won’t survive and may want to save yourself the heartache and think about going into a different business. Those traits (in no particular order) are: Good Organization Skills, Good Communication Skills, Good Problem Solving Skills, Creative, Great Attitude, Competitive, Abundance of Determination and Sense of Confidence, Hard work and Energy, Dashes of Passion and Excitement, a Sense of Humor, a large Network of Contacts and Lots and Lots of Luck.

  1. For projects such as ‘We’ll Always Have Dingle‘ which you were Production Manager and Assistant Director, how hard is it to get funding?

It’s always hard to get funding. It certainly is not my strong point. I’m much better at making sure the money that is available is spent wisely.  I can’t tell you how many great projects that I’m attached to as either a producer or director or both that I’ve spent years trying to raise money. Examples like my feature film “Press>Play” and my documentary “Witness Trees” will have a few months of interest from an investor, but then the deal will fall apart. Year after year.  Recently, I was contracted to produce and direct a documentary and after working for three months on the project, I was told “the creative had gotten a head of the capital.” This after I was guarenteed payment and turned down other exciting producing projects. A few years back, I had a feature film with a full cast and a production start date and then the financing fell through.  It can be so frustrating. You spend so much time trying to appeal to the money source and it ends up going nowhere. There are lots of people (especially in Los Angeles) that like to pretend they’re in the financing movies business, but they’re really just seeking attention. I’m sorry do I sound jaded here.

One of the things we did with “We’ll Always Have Dingle” was proceed to go into production before all the financing was secure. You see this done with many “Crowdfunding” projects.  I don’t recommend this method, but sometimes, like in the case of “Dingle”, you have no other choice because so many elements were in place just for that short period of time. Cast, Director, Director of Photography, Location. It can be a bunch of elements. The hope is that by having a trailer or long form presentation you can raise the remaining budget or interest a distributor for finishing funds. I’ve seen this done many times, successfully, when pitching television networks, not as successfully with feature films.

  1. From your own experiences, what would be the main differences in the role of producer when making a television show such as ‘The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman‘, a documentary like ‘Houston, We Have A Problem, a reality show such as ‘Kids 2 Kids‘, or a film like ‘Finding Hope’?

Every job for a Producer is different with a different set of challenges and variables. That’s why you can’t use the budget of one project and expect it to suffice for another project. You’ve got to do the work and research to create an accurate budget and pre-production plan for that specific project. Television series usually have union rules and network standards that need to be addressed. Documentaries usually have smaller crews, but bigger needs in post production, etc.

Let me answer your question on the role of a good Producer (in my opinion) for any production. A Producer brings new investors into the film business and they look out for the investors’ needs because they think long term and know they need that private equity to continue for future projects.  A Producer gets the script and pre-production right before moving forward. They inspire and develop talent because they embrace the project with their own love. Producers keep budgets at levels that make sense for the project, innovate, by making it a better project while controlling costs. Producers keep in touch with the audience, weighing what their tastes are, but also taking chances on emerging artists. This helps show the business and culture where it might aspire to be going.  Finally, good Producers help bring content, creative talent, technology, audiences and investors together.

Once I understood the elements of good producing is when I knew I wanted to be a producer.

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On Tuesday May 8th, 50 directors and their teams spread out among 28 public schools in Pasadena, California to document “Go Public: A Day in the Life of PUSD.”  The plan was to follow a wide-ranging group of individuals who participate in the School District, be it Teachers, students, principals, administrators, school workers, volunteers and any others that make a public school district function. An introduction to all of those that think they know, but haven’t actually stepped into a public school for a long time. Each Director is assigned to make a short film of their subject which will then be presented on the website, afterwards all the footage will be collected by Producers Dawn and James O’Keefe of Blue Field Productions to create a feature documentary that will (according to their Mission Statement), be “a window into the world of one urban school district, the many dedicated people, the myriad of opportunities available and the complexity of effectively serving the needs of all students.”

When I was introduced to the project I knew immediately I needed to get involved. My two daughters have gone through the Pasadena Public School System from kindergarten to high school graduation and now are successfully getting their degrees at Occidental College, (in fact, my eldest just graduated “Cum Laude” with plans to teach in public schools).  Both my parents were public high school teachers. I believe in public education, especially in Pasadena.

However, after co-producing the 13-part series, “Senior Year” in 2000-2002 for PBS and just recently completing “Senior Year: Ten Years Later,” I wanted to follow a different story then students and teachers, which had been the center of our series. I had recently been amused by a statement from then Republican Candidate Newt Gingrich, “most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.” Well, I wanted to explore that idea, on a regular school day in Pasadena could a kid do a janitor’s job.

My team (of 2) and I met the custodian Felix Lopez at Washington Middle School at 5:30 am on May 8th, the day of filming. He unlocked the chains and opened the gates to the parking lot, just like he does every morning and just like each day at the school, he never stopped working once the gates were open. “I like to see this place clean,” he told me later in the day, “the environment clean really helps.  When the parents say what a beautiful school, it makes me feel good.” Lopez is a Mexican immigrant, one of ten brothers and a sister, he grew up poor and attended school only up to 4th grade. “English language was so difficult for me, but I learned by listening, especially PBS. The proper English from England, so many good shows.” He still donates to PBS every year. I liked that.

Vice Principal Eric Gothold said, “Feliz Lopez goes out of his way to provide a clean and safe environment for our kids, but he also takes every opportunity to teach them as well, life lessons, skills, conversation and compassion.” He’s right, everywhere Mr. Lopez went around the school (picking up trash, sweeping the floors, washing down the lunch tables) students and teachers greeted him and he knew each of their names. One eighth-grader we interviewed said, “Felix, he’s an awesome dude. I came here every morning, he helped me with Spanish a little bit. He keeps you out of trouble, he influences me.” His friend added, “Nobody wants to be bad in front of him, it disappoints him. Some kids are disrespectful to their teachers, but they’re never disrespectful to Felix. He’s a good person.”

We didn’t go to Felix’s house out of respect for his wife. Her Mother was very sick and she was emotional and concerned about the possibilities of losing her. That wasn’t the documentary I was making. However, we did follow Mr. Lopez as he picked up his daughter at John Muir High School in Pasadena. She is a Sophomore and is a terrific writer for the school newspaper. Her plans are to go to college to study Architecture. He also has two grown sons in their twenties who no longer live at home. It isn’t hard to see the love he has for his family, especially his daughter. “If we want to learn, we’re going to learn. If we don’t want to learn, we won’t. I want someone to be better then me, anyone, I’m so proud when someone does well, doesn’t matter rich or poor, but you have to want it. I’m keeping this place nice and clean for all of you.”

To Felix Lopez, he helps children learn by giving them a clean, beautiful place to be educated. He cares about his job and the school and it shows. The hallways sparkle. We joyfully filmed reflections of students on the floors of the halls because of how clearly we could see them. It was a cameraman’s dream. Recent budget cuts have forced the school system to cut back on janitors, but it hasn’t stopped Felix. He now does the job of two custodians. At the end of the day, we were exhausted just following him around the large campus. But as we watched and interviewed the Principal Marion Stewart, the Librarian Christina Diaz, the Vice Principal, the security staff and many of the teachers, we were struck by how hard all of them worked. Nobody had time to kill. My team was usually the only ones in the Teacher’s Lounge. They all have a job to do and that is to educate the next generation. The same job that all those that work in public education, teaching 90% of the children in this country.  Everyone who thinks they know about public education by presenting a few bad apples, needs to spend a day at their public school before judgement. It certainly realigned my opinion. Go Public.

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I am excited and honored to announce that our documentary, Houston We Have A Problem, which aired as part of the REEL IMPACT series on PLANET GREEN, has been nominated for a 2011 News and Documentary EMMY Award. We’re headed to New York City for the event on September 26th.

To celebrate our nomination and to give a new audience an opportunity to see the film, Prescreen and Unconventional Media have joined together to present the complete feature documentary online starting September 16 at the website for 60 days only. The buzz on Prescreen is great including a write up in the Wall Street Journal and we are honored to be part of their initial launch.  Check it out if you are considering online distribution.

For the September 16 premiere, the film will be available for a discounted price of only $4, so please help us spread the word and use this opportunity to catch the film if you haven’t seen it because the next day it doubles in price.

The documentary film is an inside look into the culture of oil and oil barons, exploring the history of our dependency that has led to the energy crisis.  Press includes a LINK TV interview with Director/Producer Nicole Torre, plus excellent reviews from the HUFFINGTON POST and  CURRENT TV . My favorite still is the British Daily Motion discussing the film.

For a complete listing of film festivals and reviews, visit the film site.

While in New York City, I will also be attending as Head of Production for Lady of the Canyon, the Independent Feature Conference as well as the New York Television Festival for the premiere at the Tribeca Cinema of a 22 minute taste of our film, Finding Hope, starring Molly Quinn, Chris Mulkey, James Morrison, Richard Riehle, Christine Elise, Kristen Dalton, Andy Mackenzie, Ray Abruzzo, Darby Stanchfield, Jon Lindstrom and a whole bunch more incredible actors. Written and directed by Diane Namm, I produced. Facebook Fan site

The film is the story of 16-year old Esmee Johnson (Molly Quinn), a child bride, forced to marry at 13, who runs away from the isolated polygamist community in which she grew up.  Esmee has to navigate through a world she never knew existed, and plunges into the seedy underbelly of New York City.  Pursued by her husband, Rev. Ezra Dobbins (Chris Mulkey), sought by the FBI as a government witness, and fearful of the human traffickers with whom she originally seeks refuge, Esmee runs because it’s the only way she knows to stay alive.  She becomes a teen fugitive in her quest for FINDING HOPE.  We’ve completed the first half of the film, but now seek completion funding. The screenings are FREE, but you have to register online.

Molly Quinn discusses her work in both the New York Daily News and Wetpaint .

This has been a long creative journey for both writer/director Diane Namm and myself which she acknowledges in this short video, “Why Finding Hope

The story started with Namm’s short award winning film, The Sacrifice, starring a then unknown Molly Quinn which can be watched online at the website. There is also a behind the scenes with Diane and myself on YouTube.

If you have any interest or questions regarding these projects or the slate of projects in development, please contact me. I’d love to hook up while in New York.  Thank you.

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Tonight, April 23, 2011, HBO is premiering a drama entitled “Cinema Verite.” Now I haven’t seen the film, but there has been quite a debate on Documentary message boards like Doculink, IMDB and even between film reviewers over the tag line being used in the marketing as this was “the first reality show.” San Francisco Chronicle loves the HBO film, Los Angeles Times does not.
Just the term “Cinema Verite” is hotly debated in documentary circles, about how real anything is once edited. I wrote in one of my previous blogs, “Virtual Sundance” about a wonderful two hour discussion between Werner Herzog and Frederick Wiseman on this very subject at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

Filmed in 1971, “An American Family” (which the HBO movie is based on) followed the Loud family, Pat and Bill and their five children of Santa Barbara in their lives, airing two years later on PBS. At the time, it was considered a real life documentary series. I guess the HBO movie suggests things were staged, more like a contemporary “Reality” series.

This is all funny because Director/Producer David Zeiger and I were just talking about this with a few of the former characters from our series, “Senior Year.” Over 10 years ago we delivered thirteen episodes for PBS about fifteen kids at Fairfax High, the most diverse school in Los Angeles, as they navigated through their senior year on the edge of the new millennium. “Senior Year” is going to be rebroadcast starting May 5th on KCET and we were filming with some of the original students from the show, sort of a “where are they now” segment, to tag to the end of each episode.

We started to wonder aloud how audiences will react now that they’ve been poisoned by “reality” television. Would they think the scenes had been scripted, the diary cams and camera confessions a lame rip off of what was presently on television. The fact of the matter is there was very little reality television on in 1999/2000, so our influences were the Maysles Brothers, Richard Leacock, Wiseman and “American Family.” We wanted to be the fly on the wall, even hiring recent film college graduates to be camera people, so there wouldn’t be such a difference in age, to get a more honest approach. Of course, we edited the footage, but we refused to manipulate anything that wasn’t true. Maybe that’s why all the students we followed wanted to return 10 years later to recap and update their lives.

“Senior Year” was successful enough that after the series ran, I was offered and took a bunch of good paying gigs on reality television, (Simple Life, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Black.White., Dramatic Auditions) but I’ve also worked in narrative filmmaking, so I’ve always known the difference between reality television and documentary. I’ve almost lost friendships and jobs with producers that do not. My fear is that less and less audiences actually do anymore.

“American Family” lasts because it is still a great documentary. “Reality” shows, by contrast, have no shelf-life at all. Most have no success if repeated on television or sell on DVD.  I guess that’s another reason why “Senior Year” is a documentary, it’s got a shelf life. But Reality TV is here to stay, it’s too cheap to produce and although many claim to dislike Reality television, I think everyone has at least one show they love (mine is “Amazing Race”). Just like a piece of candy, we know we shouldn’t eat it and it’s not good for us, but we indulge anyway. I’m sure the HBO movie will be fun to watch, just don’t take it as “documentary” or “reality.”

If you want to know more about the upcoming rebroadcast of “Senior Year” we’ve started a Facebook Fan Page.

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Winner Best Director – Nicole Torre, DocuWest Film Festival, 2010
Winner Best Point of View Documentary, EcoFocus Film Festival

Official Selection – Documentary Fortnight, Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 2010
Official Selection – United Nations Association, Traveling Film Festival
Official Selection – Over 30 National and International Film Festivals

It’s been a busy year of festival screenings and promotion for our award winning documentary feature film, HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

Now available for a very short time to view online, this week only, special for Earth Day!  If you feel like others should see this film, like we do, help spread the word.  Until April 30, 2011 for only $8.95, (cheaper then most feature documentaries on itunes), gather around the computer, have an Earth Day party, discuss the increase in gas costs, the war in Libya, learn and enjoy the film.  If you have a fast internet connection, click on the HD button, either way watch it full screen. Watch it HERE.

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM stands out in the surge of films that address “green” issues. It takes a close examination inside the energy capital of the world to see America’s dangerous appetite for oil consumption.  The film traces the history of oil drilling in America and how the United States came to rely on foreign oil, from the Texas oilmen themselves, tracking Congress’ empty promises for alternative energy since the 1970s. The energy policy of the USA has only been a strategy of defense, not offense, problems (like the Gulf disaster last year, an inevitable tragedy) that extend far beyond profit, politics, and party lines. However, a new form of “Wildcatting” in alternatives is changing the oil industry and the country.  See and Hear the confessions of oilmen, who work in the trenches every day, scrambling to feed America’s ferocious appetite.

HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM brings both sides together, seeking solutions, making it clear that we must embrace all forms of alternatives in order to save the planet and ourselves.

Director Nicole Torre has gathered exclusive interviews with an A-list cast of Texas oil barons, Wildcatters, and top executives, including the former president of Shell Oil; the chairman of BP Capital; Sen. Harry Reid; Van Jones, Founder of Green for All; and Middle East adviser Joanne Herring, who married the founder of Enron and was the basis for Julia Roberts’ role in Charlie Wilson’s War. Watch what everyone is calling “a must see film at this time in history”.

HUFFINGTON POST just reviewed the film and wrote, “Houston We Have a Problem is an educational, upbeat examination into the history and future of oil. It is a refreshing reminder that the energy debates are not black and white.” Read the full review HERE.

CURRENT TV reviewed the film and called it “upbeat and engaging editing harmoniously meshes with its original NON-partisan clean energy stance, LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE UNITED AS A NATION.” Here’s the full REVIEW.

KPFK in Los Angeles did a one hour radio program in March of the film now archived for listening. My favorite is this British Press TV discussion.

PLANET GREEN, which aired the film as part of it’s Reel Impact Series has submitted HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM for an EMMY Award!

In addition to all this, HOUSTON has been recognized by the scientific community. Last May, it screened at the Athens International Science Film Festival in Athens, Greece, and has just recently played the Academia Film Olomouc, International Festival of Science Documentary Films. For a full list of festivals and screenings, go to our website . You can also see a POST when the film first started playing the festivals.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m proud to have been a producer on the film and if you’ve seen it, please help us spread the word, embed the links to the website on to your favorite environmental sites and blogs. If you haven’t seen the film, please watch it online now or buy the DVD for $19.95 at the website. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also see a bunch of clips and extra material from the film at our youtube channel.

Thank you, as always, for your interest.

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